Two Short Days in the Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes in Upstate New York is a beautiful area. Rolling hills punctuated by long slender fingers of water, many of which are surrounded by grape vines.

Both Joyce’s and my family loved and spent considerable time at Skaneateles Lake and in the lovely town of Skaneateles. Joyce and I, on a number of return trips, have enjoyed meals at some of its good restaurants.

This trip to Syracuse, however, we decided to re-explore the Finger Lakes wine country. Although we have always loved the scenery, we had never been particularly impressed by the wines. It had, however, been a long time since we tasted its wines and we thought we owed the region another chance. This trip, we spent a day and a half covering as much of the area as possible, experiencing some of the region’s best wineries, creameries, scenic parks and local culture.

Day One-Between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes

After an early family lox and bagels brunch (courtesy of our absolute favorite grocery store, the amazing Wegmans DeWitt), we left for the Finger Lakes just before noon.

We spent the first half day, after leaving Syracuse just before noon, between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. We visited Muranda and Cowlick Cheese Companies on Route 96, although we unfortunately managed to hit Lively Run Goat Creamery the one day a week (Sunday) it was closed. We, however, made up for this miss with stops at Silver Thread, Standing Stone, Red Newt and Atwater Estate Wineries. Although we found some decent gewürztraminers, chardonnays, pinot gris and even cabs and cab francs, we were most impressed by the rieslings, and a number of ice wines. We in fact, even ended up buying a case of mixed chardonnay, Vidal and Riesling Ice Wines from Standing Stone.

After a brief stop in Trumansburg’s surprisingly (for a town this size) large fine chocolate and truffle shop (Life’s so Sweet), we stopped for a view and a short walk through the lovely Taughannock Falls State Park, marveling its shear gorges and waterfalls (natural features for which the southern Finger Lakes area is justifiably famous).

Then on to Ithaca for a walk through the Downtown Commons and dinner at the fun and crowded and very good Just a Tastetapas restaurant and wine bar. Emboldened by our earlier tasting experiences, we were anxious to try some more New York Wines. We took advantage of one of the wine bar’s many flights by selecting the local flight from which we planned to select a bottle. We were sufficiently intrigued by two wines, that we decided that instead of selecting one, we would get glasses of two different wines, pairing the Sheldrake Point dry riesling with roasted peach with goat cheese and balsamic, shrimp sautéed in garlic and sherry and steamed clams, and a Rooster Hill cab franc/lemberger with tomato sauce/portabella/mozzarella/fontina cheese flatbread, the onion rings and the housemade focaccia with roasted garlic.

During our next stay between Cayuga and Seneca, however, we may be tempted to stay partway up the lakes, rather than down at the base (in Ithaca or Watkins Glen, respectively) so that we may try a couple of other very tempting restaurant, such as Red Newt Bistro and especially Dano’s Heuriger Austrian restaurant, with its interesting selections of dips, charcuterie, roasted meats, fish and East European sides, including sauerkraut and spaetzle.

Day Two—West of Seneca

After a night at the stylish, comfortable (and pretty expensive) Cornel Hospitality School-managed Statler Hotel, a brief tour of the campus and a walk by Triphammer Falls and gorge, we headed west toward Watkins Glen. (We reluctantly skipped Corning and its glass museum and galleries—the place where we bought our first ever piece of art glass some 30 years ago!) After a brief stop at the Finger Lakes Homestead Cheese company, we went to Watkins Glen State Park where we walked the most impressive gorge and falls (yes another one) in the region. (We unfortunately had to miss others, such as Montour and Eagle Cliff Falls.)

After one more creamery (Sunset View), we resumed our quest for the best Finger Lakes wines. This quest, which focused on western shores of Keuka and Seneca Lakes, began at Heron Hill, where we particularly enjoyed the 2008 Ingle Vineyard and late harvest rieslings. We followed the tasting with a lunch of crab cakes and flatbread shrimp pizza (accompanied by the Ingle riesling) on the panoramic deck of the Blue Heron Café.

Next came Dr. Konstantin Frank, the most famed vintner in and the person most responsible for brining vinifera grapes to the region. A very informative tasting and some interesting wines, but to our palates, no particular standouts. So too with Fox Run Vineyards.

This changed at Anthony Road Winery with the 2007 Martini-Reinhardt Cab Franc and especially the wonderful 2008 riesling trockenbeeren dessert wine. The cab franc was a particularly nice accompaniment to a tour through the winery’s lovely demonstration garden, where you could view a broad range of herbs, vegetables and flowers and sample grapes fresh from the vines of some of the primary varietals. We also enjoyed some of the wines at Belhurst Wines (especially the 2009 Cab Franc and merlot, the 2010 semi-dry rieslng and the Golden Pheasant blend of seyval blanc and chardonnay).

Belhurst, however, was at least as notable for the luxurious Belhurst Castle resort and its beautiful lawns to the lake, as it was for its wines. Enough to tempt us to return for a more leisurely stay. But, after seeing the equally intriguing Geneva on the Lake resort, with its Tuscan-inspired villa and gardens, we may consider splitting our stay. If we do, we will have a few restaurants from which to choose. Belhurst’s Edgar’s restaurant is beautifully designed and appointed, in addition to having an interesting menu. Geneva on the Lake’s Lancelotti is almost as compelling. A short drive past the luxurious “cottages” along the lake, into meticulously restored and maintained downtown Geneva, offers other interesting options, especially the Red Dove small plate restaurant.

From there it was onto the northern tip of Canandaigua Lake, where we had a very nice dinner with grad school friends that we hadn’t seen or spoken with for almost 40 years, and a night at the very nice Inn on the Lake. Unfortunately, we had far too little time at our lakeside Inn, arriving at 10:30 PM and having to leave by 9:00 AM.

Why leave so early? We had a date with the Jell-O Gallery in “beautiful downtown Leroy” New York. Although I can’t say that we were totally engaged by all the memorabilia, it did evoke a bit of nostalgia. More interesting was the trivia. We did enjoy learning of the 110-year history of the product, the rather unappetizing sounding foundation of the gelatin (powdered steer collagen), the 30+ year marketing association with Bill Cosby, and especially that:

  • The inventor, after failing to find a market, sold the recipe for a mere $450;
  • The purchaser, after failing to make a market, tried and failed to sell it for $35, before eventually selling it in 1925 for $66 million (the equivalent of $1 billion in today’s dollars); and that
  • The product’s initial success (from virtually zero revenues in 2004 to $1 million in 2006) was dependent on what was then, a totally new and widely criticized promotional concept—creating demand by using a field “sales force” to give free samples and recipes to housewives;

From Leroy, we made a beeline over the Niagara Falls bridge to the Niagara Escarpment and Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) Ontario—the home of Canadian Ice Wines and the annual George Bernard Shaw Festival. Our NOTL adventures are discussed in our next blog.

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